ICS Early Years Center Blog

Inter-Community School Zurich, Switzerland

October 29, 2015
by katebowen
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International Schools in Host Culture Contexts: Supporting exploration of the PYP learner profile through outdoor learning

“Must we always teach our children with books? Let them look at the mountains and the stars up above. Let them look at the beauty of the waters and the trees and flowers on earth. They will then begin to think, and to think is the beginning of a real education.”

David Polis

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In an international context such as ours, students, families and educators bring the richness of diverse cultures, identities and influences of a global community. Working and learning together, we inevitably draw on individual backgrounds to create our own identity as an international community. Building on this idea, we also recognise how important it is for children to make authentic connections to local culture, geography and values of our host country of Switzerland. These connections play a significant role in shaping ways we live and learn together at school.

As a PYP school based in Switzerland, we recognize the importance our host culture places on children spending dedicated periods of time in the outdoors. The connections we have made with the local forest through our weekly visits have become deeply rooted in the identity of our learning community. Each of our EYC classes has a year long unit of inquiry into the laws of the natural world through the transdisciplinary theme How the World Works. The forest learning space has become central to the deep, rich inquiries of these units of exploration. Therefore, time in the forest, throughout the whole year and in all weathers is an integral part of the programme.

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Time spent in the forest is planned for by teachers with learning opportunities connected to the children’s current interests. We aim to develop children’s ideas and theories by re-proposing and connecting threads of learning in both the classroom and forest context. Encounters in natural spaces support the children to deepen their understandings about the world and are reflected upon when the children return to the classroom. This provides a platform for teachers to plan for further learning.  It is important to us to ensure connections between the forest and classroom continue to flow back and forth between the two spaces. When observing the children as they explore the forest together what often strikes us is the remarkable opportunities the outdoors has for developing the PYP attitudes in an organic and meaningful way

 As children set out for a morning of forest exploration the air buzzes with anticipation. The children and teachers alike are inquirers anticipating a morning full of awe and wonder as we embark on a shared learning journey.  As the children work together both independently and in collaborative groups, we observe and document their emerging theories and their connections to the Units of Inquiry. 

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The forest also provides a wealth of opportunities for the children to demonstrate and practice the attributes of the IB Learner Profile in a way that cannot be replicated in a classroom setting. As children climb trees and explore physical challenges they learn to develop their own understandings about boundaries and explore what it means to be courageous risk takers. The children are knowledgeable as they ask questions and build their own theories about the changes they observe in the natural world. They carefully consider what inquiries are personally relevant and meaningful and how they can extend their knowledge back in the classroom. Or as they work together to build a shelter they communicate their ideas with their peers, solving problems and thinking through possible solutions. They demonstrate their caring, principled outlook on the world around as they truly become stewards of the earth.

For the community at ICS, the forest is not just an additional learning environment, it is an essential part of our identity. It is a place where we can truly come together as a group to work and play in harmony with the natural world.

“Let nature be your teacher.”

William Wordsworth

Kate Bowen, Andrea Mills, Rebecca Smith and Victoria Newman

ICS Early Years Teachers

October 1, 2015
by Andrea Mills
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Den Building

Connecting Threads of Learning in Different Spaces

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As our class groups develop a growing sense of community, we intentionally plan learning provocations based on children’s interests which promote connections among our environments both indoor and outdoor. We aim to have threads of learning which are expanded upon in multiple spaces offering opportunities to scaffold and consolidate ideas.

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In the past weeks, there has been an emerging interest among a group of children around den building in the classroom as well as the courtyard space. The children have used large building blocks, fabrics, clothes pins and tape to work together to create a wide range of dens, tents and houses. We observed several components to this work.

First, there was the challenge of the actual construction of the structures. One group worked together to brainstorm and problem solve around the best way to build their den in a way that would be stable. A short exchange of dialogue and viewpoints illustrates the importance of the social context in which these children built understandings.

Izumi: The pegs won’t work! They just won’t work. You have to get something else.

Aaron: Maybe those long sharp ones that you put in like this. (hammering gesture)

Teacher: Nails?

Aaron: Yes, nails

Teacher: Hmmm, nails might not be ok for this floor. I wonder if there’s something else we could use?

Nikita: Cello tape?

Aaron: Yeah, cello tape and pegs.

Teacher: Should I get you some

Izumi: We can use the pegs for these like because it’s small enough but the tape for parts it won’t fit.

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The children used scientific thinking to collaboratively find a solution. Like engineers, they problem solved to figure out ways to successfully achieve their goal. They worked together to support the fabrics among the blocks to create a structure that was agreed upon by all. When they were successful, there was a sense of teamwork and group achievement. The child-driven nature of this collaboration added a heightened sense of investment. This particular experience was motivated by a small group. Yet, as other children passed by they offered help, suggestions and feedback, becoming part of the collective experience.

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The children sought out spaces for den play in the back courtyard as well, indicating to us that this was an idea the children were invested in and worthy of further exploration. Some common threads emerged as considerations for the children in their constructions. The ideas that seemed important to them included:

safety

hiding

protecting (babies, robbers)

being together

making spaces for activities like eating together and sleeping

The themes of the children’s narratives around what is valued in the  constructions give us a lens into the children’s thinking.  Play is a way for children to make sense of their world. As such, play enables a sense of empowerment  to explore emotions, fears, theories and ideas in a world where children are working out their place. We saw this clearly in the den projects.

Building on this interest, we reproposed the idea of structure building during a visit to the forest. Spending dedicated time learning in nature is an intentional decision in the Early Years. The encounters and interactions with each other and the environment become rooted in our EYC identity as the children and teachers form strong connections to this space. As such, it was a natural choice for a reproposal of  these interests. We wondered if these same themes would emerge and how children might work together and build on their thinking in the forest context.

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Waldkinder

Upon arrival at the forest, we met altogether and shared materials including fabrics, chicken wire, rope and strings, clothes pegs and more that we brought along for the day. The children were asked about their ideas for using the materials and shared thoughts:

Cloth

Lance: Make the top of the den

Mouza: We could use it to hide with

Lola: We could use it as a roof

Again, we noticed the narratives around safety, hiding and protection.

Chicken Wire

Fred: To do on the top of the sticks… a net

Finlay: You could use it if you see a bear, you could use it like a net

Owen: You could catch dinosaurs. You can put dinosaurs in the net

Jake: That’s not a net!

Rope and String

Khalid: I see cotton

Lance: Climbing mountain rope

Tuur: ‘String”

Jack: A rope

The Building

Using the materials and their ideas the children began constructing. Mouza asked for teacher help with placing the materials higher to create a bed to climb up. The children were required to problem solve as the materials began to move. Smilla and Mathilda thought the rope would be useful. They found a “rainbow branch” and Smilla, who is learning English, showed us by using her arm in a circular movement that she wanted it tied up. The teachers secured a knot so it was safe.  Mathilda felt the rope was too long for a swing when she saw Khalid use it. Giulia had an idea with the orange string. She began to knot the rope and together they worked to secure it. Izumi intervened by bringing strings and offered to climb a tree to stop it from falling. This was an opportunity for the children to explore ideas around structural integrity in the context of construction. They listened and cooperated around a shared goal.

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The children demonstrated sophisticated communication skills, accessing multiple verbal languages within the group to reach a shared goal around how to tie the string so that it is attached securely.

Elena: Was ist deine Idee? (What is your idea)

Eleonore: Das ist nicht schwierig (It’s not hard)

Elena: Das ist nicht zu haben (You shouldn’t use this)

Elena: Machst du das Giulia? We need a tighter knot, a very tight knot. What do the ties do?

Nikita: This is a really tight and close so the knot doesn’t come undone.

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There was also some dialogue around friendships and power structures.

Jake: We are chiefs from Giulia (Jake and Aaron)

Aaron: Yeah; we are searching for our friends from other countries.

Lance: We found a white special rock, because it looks like a diamond.

Finlay: I found something that is quite strange! Come, we found a new house. It’s a lot of sticks in here!

Lance: I will close the gate. I have security guards.

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The reproposal of den building with new materials in the forest was an opportunity to revisit play themes that were important to the children.  As the children engaged in tying knots, manipulating yarn around branches and constructing with diverse materials, they were actively  building their fine motor skills in a self motivated way. Physical activities requiring gross motor competencies like climbing, jumping, walking and running are promoted naturally in the forest environment. The ongoing den project illustrates why we are committed to offering children diverse opportunities to consolidate and expand their ideas, thinking and theories. We look forward to building on these interests and experiences in familiar and new contexts over the next weeks and months.

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“The wider the range of possibilities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer the experiences. We must widen the range of topics and goals, the types of situations we offer and their degree of structure, the kinds of combinations of resources and materials, and the possible interactions with things, peers and adults”.

– Loris Malaguzzi

Photographs by Rebecca Smith – ICS Early Years Teacher

September 11, 2015
by Andrea Mills
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Making Connections through the Language of Movement

It is a new school year filled with wonder, curiosity and hope.  Many children have joyfully reconnected with familiar friends and we have had many new faces join our Early Years community as well. As we embark upon our first Unit of Inquiry, Who We Are, we have carefully considered what types of experiences and environments might best support us with exploring the central idea Through Sharing Experiences in Our Community We Can Learn About Ourselves and Others.

In preparing the learning spaces for the children, we considered ways we might invite children to collaborate with the intention of exploring ideas around our classroom as a community. In the Early Years Centre, we share a strongly held belief that children have a multitude of symbolic languages with which they make meaning and demonstrate understandings. We value a kinesthetic style of learning and considered ways we might provide opportunities for the language of movement.

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An invitation to collaborate and connect through dance and movement with colourful props

In our back courtyard space, we have a sloping grassy patch where we set up some colorful fabrics attached to trees and fencing in an inviting display. We also provided some dancing scarves, music and at times different instruments with the intention of creating a whimsical space where the children could explore movement. We felt the natural environmental influences of wind, light and shadows would add another meaningful component to the learning experiences. This quickly became a popular area and we noticed the children were naturally drawn to running and dancing through the fabrics.

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Natural environmental influences like wind, light and shadowsadd an additional layer to children’s explorations

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The space was popular with the children who had previously established friendships as well as those new to our school. Many took great pleasure in making a game of running through the fabrics. There was much laughter, smiling and connecting. We were struck by the way a group of children who are new to our community interacted with each other in this joyful and physical way. Although there was not yet a common spoken language among several of the children, the language of movement was a way to get to know each other through a shared physical experience. The interactions in this space were poignant in that upon careful observation, we noticed that the children were moving with each other in very social ways. We wanted to explore that idea.

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We observed that there were several distinctive ways the children interacted collaboratively:

Hiding Together

One game that quickly emerged was hiding behind a piece of fabric attached to the fence. We know that children often seek out cozy, private spaces for a variety of reasons. It can feel comforting to have a secret space away from an activity hub. Even in a traditional playground space, many teachers have noted that they often find children rejecting the conventional equipment in search of a hidden leafy patch. The game that we observed began as one child experimenting with hiding behind the fabric. She was slowly joined by another and then another. The group was happy to be hidden altogether in a quiet space. They shared a physical closeness and at the same time were visibly developing a connection with each other. This same group came together in this way for the entire week.

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 Hiding together in a cozy nook

Twirling/ Dancing/ Imitating

Different materials  including dancing scarves and musical instruments were set out daily. The children quickly used the materials to twirl, dance and skip. We remarked how children’s movements often seemed like invitations to friendship. A child’s gaze toward another indicated an openness to companionship. We observed children mirroring each other’s movements as well as engaging in collaborative, orchestrated dancing. Again, we were struck by the way a shared kinesthetic experience served as a platform for relationship building. It was a way for individuals to come together and form a group in a very physical sense through the language of movement.

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Invitations to dance and move collaboratively led to an emerging sense of connectedness through meaningful encounters. These experiences support our learning goals defined in ICS’s scope and sequence by developing the idea that children should recognise the value of interacting, playing and learning with others. We want students to understand that participation in a group can require them to assume different roles and responsibilities and a willingness to cooperate. In this space, we explored these concepts in a very kinesthetic sense. Most significantly, we are reminded that there are many ways to know, to learn and to express understandings.

The child
is made of one hundred.
The child has
a hundred languages
a hundred hands
a hundred thoughts
a hundred ways of thinking
of playing, of speaking.
A hundred always a hundred…

From the poem “No way. The hundred is there.” by Loris Malaguzzi.

Translated by Lella Gandini

 

March 27, 2014
by Rajeshree Rao
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Child Initiated Inquiry: Building Bird Nests.

In our Early Years Programme there is a strong emphasis on child-initiated inquiries as we believe that children learn best when their interests are acknowledged as worthy of investigation. Children’s thinking is not only valued but supported and extended through the class community.

Walker, in our class, brought in a picture of a nest he had built with his family. This photograph inspired the children and they were curious to discover more about nests. Walker’s enthusiasm and experience, as well as books Ms Judith gave us from the library, raised the children’s interest in nest building.

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As a class, we discussed the reasons birds need nests and building materials.

  • Walker: Birds build nests to protect their eggs.
  • Alex:      They need a home to lay their eggs.
  • Ffion:     Eggs stay warm.
  • Nicolas: To hide the eggs from bad animals and birds.
  • Amy:      To feed them.
  • Wren:    To take care of the babies till they grow.

Materials used:

  • Walker / Alex:      Sticks and bark at the bottom to make the nest strong.
  • Edward:                  Leaves to keep the nest soft.
  • Annabel / Ffion:  Dry grass and moss to cover the eggs to keep warm.

We used our Waldkinder exploration to collect materials, which the children had decided they would need. We were very fortunate to spot a little nest being built on a tree on our way to Waldkinder. This helped them to closely observe the materials used and the shape of the nest.

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The children engaged in collaborative dialogue to agree on how to use the materials.  They were observed not only expressing their ideas, but in addition being receptive to the ideas of others. They built nests and decided together where within the school grounds they would like to place them.  From their learn they are keen to take some action; by taking care of the birds by regularly putting out bird feed or bread for them.

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This child initiated inquiry helped in connecting the children with nature. This experience is part of our yearlong Unit of Inquiry ‘Sharing the Planet’.

 

March 26, 2014
by Heidi Harman
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Outdoor Artists

 

Painting is something we do on a very regular basis in our Early Years classes. Most children of all ages love to paint and we, the Early Years educators, believe that they should be given many opportunities to do so using a variety of painting tools, materials and techniques. Not only is painting fun, but it also helps to develop children’s fine motor skills, promotes creativity and is a wonderful way to express thoughts, feelings and ideas.

Last week the Spring weather was glorious and we felt motivated to enjoy our learning experiences outside. We thought it may be fun, interesting and inspiring to paint outdoors for a change. Being outside in the natural sunlight in our local environment appeared to further stimulate our artistic creativity!

We invited the children to paint whatever they found fascinating, appealing or thought-provoking. They had the freedom to roam and observe the outdoor environment as a huge artist’s canvas! The children were excited to be painting outside and many felt enthused to do more than one painting. The outdoor experience certainly appeared to help foster the children’s passion for painting.

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”

Pablo Picasso

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Photos by Heidi Harman

November 7, 2013
by Andrea Mills
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Joyful Rainy Day Possibilities

Water play is an essential component of a quality Early Years program, offering interesting and dynamic opportunities for learning and interacting. At ICS, we feel strongly it is important to provide children with rich outdoor sensory experiences, in addition to those offered by the conventional classroom water table. Some may be tempted to peek out the window and view today’s rain and wind as a deterrent to the great outdoors. It was inspiring to look at the three years olds in Rebecca Smith’s class, who clearly recognise the possibilities of a rainy morning. P1110055Children develop problem solving skills as they explore concepts like floating and sinking as they build understandings about how and why thing happen.

Some wise person once said, “there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing”. We are fortunate that children in our program come prepared for outdoor learning in most weather. Rainy day outdoor water play offers countless learning opportunities without the constraints of space and worries about spills. Young children are natural scientists and explorations in the rain promote an authentic sense of wonder in a unique way that is unmatched by an indoor space. P1110062 Water is an ideal substance to learn about concepts of more/less, empty/full, before/after as well as principles of physics like water force, effects of gravity and much more. Children must utilise complex mathematical/ scientific thinking. P1110056 Water play promotes language development as children learn new vocabulary like funnel, measuring cup, sieve, moisture, etc. They are also actively using language with peers and teachers to make sense of their experience.  P1110044 These children were required to use language abundantly and develop negotiation techniques to navigate complex social situations including sharing space/materials and working together toward common goals and shared ideas. P1110065 The success of these rich, rainy day explorations is clear from the children’s engagement with the materials and each other. We teachers also feel refreshed and inspired after some joyful outdoor learning time.

Photos by Rebecca Smith (ICS EY Teacher)

May 6, 2013
by Heidi Harman
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Encouraging and Supporting Children’s Individual Inquiries

Supporting Our Personal Inquiries and Wonderings — Cracks in the mud inquiry

In the Primary Years Programme, we believe that optimal learning takes place when it is genuinely connected to the world around an individual student. Acquisition of both knowledge and skills and the search for meaning and understanding are most successful when done in relevant contexts.

Edward, Karson, Daniel, Villum and William found some cracks in the ground and wondered how they got there.

 

Karson, “there must be some pipes under the ground, and they’re getting bigger, so the ground is opening up”.

Edward, “no, there is something bad under there and it wants us to fall in”.

Daniel, “I think someone has been digging. Come, look. There is mud under the cracks. Maybe someone used their nails”.

Mrs. Harman is wondering if the ground is dry and that is why the cracks are there. Maybe if it had rained, the cracks wouldn’t be there? Karson has the idea to put water on the cracks to see if they stay or go away. Karson and Villum went to fetch the jugs of water while Edward, Daniel and William guarded the cracks in the earth. Karson and Villum poured water onto the cracks and we all noticed the cracks begin to disappear!

We could make the cracks disappear even faster by rubbing our fingers over them.

Edward began digging with his stick once the earth became wet mud and decided to dig for treasure.

He says he will continue to keep digging every day until he finds the treasure.

Edward, “we need to put lights on our hats so we can see when we go down”.

Karson, “when we see an X on a treasure map, that is where the treasure is”.

The children  felt inspired  to create treasure maps to help them find the ‘Diamond Castle’ under the cracks.

 

The cracks remain a source of inquiry to us. Why are they only located in this part of the playground at the top of the slope under a tree and nowhere else in the playground? This led to discussions about shelter from the rain and where rain water goes.

March 8, 2013
by Andrea Mills
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A Trip to the Theatre

As part of our Unit Of Inquiry, “How We Express Ourselves”, EY2 is exploring stories. We had a wonderful opportunity to take the learning outside of the classroom and experience a live performance in a theatre.

On a chilly February day, we ventured out to the Forchbahn for the journey to Hechtplatz in Zurich for a performance of “Pippi in Takka Tukka Land”.  As we left school, the children excitedly told everyone we met, “We’re going to the theatre”! Each child came with different background knowledge about what a stage performance might be like. For some, it was a unique experience and for others a more familiar one. The children shared their expectations and thoughts.

The entire experience was exciting and significant, from waiting in line with our tickets, sitting in our seats with programs and waiting for the lights to dim. The performance was in Swiss German dialect yet most had no trouble following the plot. Back in the classroom the next day, we drew our reflections from the show. It was interesting to note what was memorable for different children.

As we hoped, this trip was a successful addition to our unit. The children visibly built their understanding of another medium to tell a story through dramatization. Perhaps equally meaningful was the shared experience of this special event beyond the classroom walls. Sharing the journey and the performance as an EY2 group meant that the children could benefit from conversations and interactions with each other, which helped to construct more sophisticated understandings. The children and their teachers will have memories of a beautiful afternoon spent together sharing a meaningful experience, which ultimately enriches our learning community.

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